Diamonds Born In Santa Clara

A Santa Clara, California-based company called Diamond Foundry is this morning taking the wraps off what it’s been creating over the last three years: the ability to produce diamonds. In Santa Clara.

As the company explains it, it discovered a plasma that allows atoms to attach themselves to a thin slice of diamond that’s been extracted the old-fashioned way, by being plucked from the earth. One by one, it says, atoms stack atop the diamond’s crystal structure, growing layer by layer into a “pure, cultured jewelry-grade diamond.”

We couldn’t catch CEO Martin Roscheisen on the phone yesterday to ask what, precisely, “jewelry-grade diamonds” means. We’re guessing if they were colorless and had what gemologists refer to as “excellent clarity,” Diamond Foundry would say so in its marketing materials. (It does not.)

Either way, the gems seem to be good enough for a list of prominent investors who’ve plugged some of their capital into the company. Diamond Foundry’s backers include entrepreneurs Mark and Alison Pincus; serial entrepreneur Ev Williams; early Facebook COO Owen Van Natta; and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who famously played a mercenary gem smuggler in the 2006 film “Blood Diamond” and now says in a statement that he’s “proud” to invest in the endeavor.

DiCaprio says he’s drawn to Diamond Foundry’s aim of “reducing the human and environmental toll of the diamond industry by sustainably culturing diamonds without the destructive use of mining.”

Indeed, the traditional diamond mining industry has long been plagued by reports of human rights abuses, including the forced labor of children in diamond fields. And there are environmental consequences that result from the removal and logging of tons of earth in pursuit of diamonds.

But investors may also like that Roscheisen is a seasoned CEO, having led the solar power tech company Nanosolar for roughly eight years previously. (It was wound down in 2013, after raising roughly $450 million in capital over its 11-year life.)

Diamond Foundry also touts a couple of other interesting twists. It’s using solar power credit to reduce its carbon footprint to zero, for one thing. It’s also launching an online marketplace that features nearly 200, mostly independent, jewelry designers, who receive “100 percent” of the money customers pay for the jewelry (minus the value of the diamonds).

It’s the only source of the company’s revenue right now.

Diamond Foundry has some competition in the nascent synthetic diamond space, including its in own backyard. A 10-year-old, San Francisco-based company called Brilliant Earth now sells both “responsibly sourced” diamonds, as well as lab-grown diamonds. Elsewhere,  a Florida-based company called Pure Grown Diamonds has also begun selling what it says are high-quality, lab-created diamonds, as has Portland, Oregon-based Mia Donna.

Brilliant Earth and Mia Donna use high-pressure high-temperature techniques that have been around for a while.

Meanwhile, Pure Grown Diamond’s process sounds much like that of Diamond Foundry. You can see its CEO, Lisa Bissell, describing it here.

Pure Grown Diamond is selling its diamonds for roughly 30 percent what traditionally mined diamonds cost customers. Diamond Foundry says it plans to charge the same if not more than market rate.